Franken-Stras faceoff leads to silly ad by conservative group

The judicial showdown between Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras is worthy of a vigorous debate over the role of senators who are responsible for vetting the nomination of candidates to the federal bench.

Franken has blocked the appointment of Stras, who once clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, because he fears Stras will be too Thomas-like on the federal bench, in this case the Eighth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.

That’s a debatable point, as I wrote a week ago, and deserves an intelligent, principled, and sober analysis and discussion. The bench is serious business.

A conservative judicial group, however, went juvenile, instead, releasing an ad today claiming that Franken is jealous of Stras.

This nonsense is the classic dumbing down of a complex political story.

When Stras was last on the ballot — 2012 — he received 1,141,951 votes easily defeating Tim Tingelstad. It was the first and only election Stras has faced since he was appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty in 2010.

In Franken’s last election — 2014 — he received 1,053,205 votes. But what the Judicial Crisis Network doesn’t say is that there were four people on the ballot.

It also doesn’t acknowledge a reality of judicial elections in Minnesota. Voters rarely know anything about the judicial candidate they’re voting for, partly because campaigns for judges have different rules. Candidates aren’t allowed to give opinions that might be perceived as not impartial on issues that might come before the court.

So, for the part, judges barely campaign, the media never cover the races on the rare occasion when a judge is actually opposed for re-election, and by Election Day voters are generally uninformed about their selection.

Popularity? Here’s guessing that most Minnesotans couldn’t name a single member of the Minnesota Supreme Court.

  • MrE85

    “Popularity? Here’s guessing that most Minnesotans couldn’t name a single member of the Minnesota Supreme Court.”

    Since Alan Page has retired, I think you’re right.

    • You can always go with the one named above – “David Stras”

      • I can’t recall if the judicial ballots indicate who the incumbent is.

        • Laurie K.

          Minnesota is one of only four states that use the incumbent designation for judges on the ballot – Arkansas, California and Michigan are the others.

          • Ah, so it’s reasonable to figure that most people look at who’s got the job now and figure, “aw, what the heck, I’ll vote for him/her.”

          • Laurie K.

            Right. Also, most voters spend little to no time researching the judicial candidates so they may feel as though voting for the incumbent is the best way to go since most are appointed and have to go through vetting by the Governor’s judicial committee. I am just guessing, I have never voted for a judicial candidate based just on incumbency.

          • fromthesidelines21

            I think this is pretty accurate. Information on judicial candidates isn’t that easy to get compared to other offices. So IF you know that a judge has made it through the Governor’s vetting and process AND they haven’t brought any attention to themselves that would warrant losing their jobs, I think most people stick with the incumbent.

          • Karen Cole

            I think incumbent judges should usually get the benefit of the doubt. Almost all of the incumbents have gone through a vetting process and then been appointed by the Governor. Giving the benefit of the doubt to incumbents helps preserve the independence of the judiciary. That helps make sure that judicial decisions get made on the merits, not based on politics.

          • Karen Cole

            Actually, the percentage of voters voting for a judicial seat challenger has gone up over time. I think that reflects the voters’ deep dissatisfaction with the status quo generally, and not any real opposition to incumbent judges.

    • Rob

      Alan Page was on the Supreme Court?

    • Barton

      I actually thought – well, there is Justice Page… oh no, wait…. he retired…

      • MrE85

        I’m sure you’re not the only one….

  • Laurie K.

    I can name all seven of the Minnesota Supreme Justices – but I am a bit of legal nerd so I probably don’t count 🙂

    • Me too.

      I wish local media would re-establish the beat coverage of appellate courts. The stories are fascinating and relevant.

  • Ickster

    I don’t recall that election, but I’m willing to bet that I voted for Stras because Tingelstad was a terrifying prospect.

    • I’m constantly disgusted by the poor quality of candidates for MN Supreme Court. I hate the electing of judges.

    • Barton

      I definitely recall NOT voting for Tingelstad.

  • Randall Thompson

    If judges continue to be elected, there needs to be a way of evaluating them. Common sense, no?

    • BJ

      Require everyone to have a law degree and visit each court room at least 2 times a month should do the trick!

    • Absolutely. In the case of appellate courts, the very best way is to read their decisions and dissents.

  • RBHolb

    I am no fan of Justice Stras, and did not care for his appointment to the court. That said, I voted for him because the alternative was a raging theocrat who would have been an embarrassment to the judiciary.

    I believe that is what is known as a “Hobson’s Choice.”

  • Jim E

    >Voters rarely know anything about the judicial candidate they’re voting for,

    Michelle MacDonald got over 878,000 votes in 2016 for Seat 6 on the MN Supreme Court. The ease with which an unqualified candidate could win a judicial election, and become one of the final arbiters of my constitutional rights, is horrifying.

    • Remember when Sharon Anderson ran in the primary for attorney general (I think against Skip Humphrey). A complete unknown. But had Anderson in her name so good enough. The next day (or nearly so), the Republican party disavowed her.

      This is why ads like this are so horrifying. We should all be demanding a higher intelligence level of our electoral process. Ads like this are geared to the idiots and fools who can’t be bothered with the responsibility of democracy.

  • chlost

    Most folks don’t have direct contact with the court system, in particular, the appellate-level courts. They believe that the court appointees aren’t relevant to them. “i’ll never have to go to court”.
    Unfortunately or not, courts do have an effect on everyday things, such as property rights, insurance claims (such as whether your insurance company has to pay to replace all of your siding or shingles after a huge storm, or force you to have mismatched ones when the original style has been discontinued or is discolored), your child’s right to an education, and your right to marry whom you love, just as a few examples.
    Citizens need to be able to make an informed decision as to the individuals sitting on their courts. The designation of a party affiliation is supposed to be a clue, but it is deceiving and it’s not enough to base your vote on that alone.
    Our right to vote is important in a democracy. We should treat it that way for every office, and accurate information on those running for office should be easily available.

    • jon

      Even if you believe you’ll never go to court, there is a good chance you can at any moment be charged with a crime that you actually committed… and have to go to court.
      Average american breaks two laws per day.
      All that is needed to put most of us in jail for 48 hours is a police officer willing to do so… to put any of us in prison for years requires a judge (or a lack of a judge if the case can’t be heard for years because we don’t have enough judges, because of partisan politics during the obama era, and now the trump era…)

      I don’t think most people realize how close they are to being far to engaged in the criminal justice system.

  • nero88888

    All right wing partisan hacks should be blocked. They have no business being on the court. They put their radical right wing beliefs ahead of the constitution.

  • Barton

    I saw this ad this morning while waiting for an elevator. I started laughing at the absurdity of the comparisons right away. Then got the fun of explaining what I was laughing at to the people staring at me like I was a loonie.

    But I know they understood the absurdity of the ad, and hopefully just that little spark will make a few people less likely to believe shut political ads in the future? (I’m attempting to be an optimist today).

  • Jack Ungerleider

    There is another part of the total vote comparison that is missing. It is stated that Stras was on the ballot in 2012 (a presidential election year) and Franken was last on the ballot in 2014 (a gubernatorial election year – aka an “off year”). Give me the percentage of votes received to total votes cast for the office with the highest vote totals. Then you can talk popularity.